Monday, September 14, 2009

Another bailout for Vedic Modi

[It all started with a dispute over a penalty of a football match on 23 August 2009 in Rajarhat, West Bengal. Angry mob then chased a gang of goons who backed a particular team in that match and played foul. The goons took shelter in Vedic Vilage—a complex which has been built up on illegally acquired land from farmers.
No. State, political leaders, police and officials were all aware of this incident—and moreover, it was not a stray case—thousands of acres of land have been grabbed by the government and land-mafias in Rajarhat, West Bengal in last one decade. Some people of Rajarhat tried to build resistance, but were not much successful.
But, that football match has done the job. After people blazed Vedic Village, apparently as outcome of their anger against the Vedic Village and their pet goons, it has been turned out how the Vedic authority has acquired land from farmers forcefully with a bare minimum price. The state Land Reformation minister Rezzak Mollah, Housing minister Gautam Deb who are all busy to prove themselves how clean they were, were all aware of the incident, but kept mum. Today (14 Sept 2009) a report has been published in the Telegraph showing the nexus between promoter-land mafia and top officials. It is also interesting how the court-order went in favour of the promoter-land mafia. Red Barricade]

Calcutta, Sept. 13: The Bengal government approved overnight a residential complex being built by the Vedic Village promoter on protected wetlands after pursuing till the Supreme Court a case against the same project, documents with The Telegraph reveal.
The approval for Sanjeeva Town, a residential complex of bungalows and apartments on the East Calcutta Wetlands, was given within a year of the land department reaching an out-of-court settlement on handing over vested land to the same promoter for building Vedic Village.
The promoter in both cases was Raj K. Modi, now in judicial custody on charges of links with criminals following the Vedic Village flare-up.
The clearance was given despite the state government objecting to Sanjeeva Town before a single bench and a division bench of Calcutta High Court. (See chart)

The government’s opposition was based on two points: the land was part of East Calcutta Wetlands on which conversion and construction are prohibited by a Calcutta High Court order of 1993; the residential project had applied for — and been refused — permission to convert and construct on the wetland. East Calcutta Wetlands is designated a Ramsar site, which grants international environmental status.
However, on October 23, 2006, the authority meant to protect the wetlands held a meeting chaired by then chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb and gave “post-facto” (after the event) sanction that reversed the government’s earlier position in the courts. A condition of creating “compensatory water body” was included.
With the state no longer opposed to the construction, the apex court, which had sought the Bengal government’s opinion, cleared the project. Sanjeeva Town’s Phase I is complete with the first few residents having moved in while the second leg is under construction. As many as 160 bungalows and 224 three- and four-bedroom duplex apartments are scheduled to be built.
Asked what made the government change its position, a pollution control board official said: “The project area of Sanjeeva Town was first shown (in official records) as urban/rural settlement. Later, it was changed to ‘substantial water bodies’. We considered the original status and gave the clearance.”
The official could not explain why the old entry was chosen when the project continues to be in an area designated “substantial water bodies”.
Modi and his legal counsel were present at the meeting of the East Calcutta Wetland Management Authority — set up to save the ecologically sensitive wetlands — that gave the approval. Then chief secretary Deb had chaired the meeting as the chairman of the authority. Other senior officials of the government and the state pollution control board, too, attended the meeting.
Deb, now retired from government service, declined to comment on the meeting he had chaired. “I will not be able to say anything on that matter now,” he said on Sunday evening.
Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, whose department had filed the FIR that led to the case, washed his hands of the issue.
“I was never consulted when the East Calcutta Wetland Management Authority gave the approval to the project. In fact, I came to know about the development after the project was cleared by the Supreme Court. It was a completely wrong thing. It is clear that somewhere corruption played a role but I do not know exactly who to blame,” Mollah told The Telegraph.
But the secretary of the land and land reforms department is a member of the East Calcutta Wetland Management Authority. For some reason, he was not present at the October 23 meeting.
Modi had approached a single bench of Calcutta High Court first when the land department filed an FIR alleging construction was being carried out without permission. The FIR had termed a panchayat clearance illegal and specified that the character of the land had been classified “a wetland with fishery” where construction would imply change of land use.
Modi received a favourable verdict from the single bench, following which the state government moved a division bench and got the sanction quashed. The promoters then moved the Supreme Court.
However, like the forgotten “smallest detail” that led Hercule Poirot to many a breakthrough, the original FIR had survived the twists and turns. It kicked back to life on Friday when Modi’s wife and son — part of the Sanjeeva board — sought and obtained bail.

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